Tensions run high at Fire Committee

Published 10:15 am Friday, May 6, 2011

Tensions were elevated in Council Chambers Thursday afternoon as the Fire Committee met to discuss scheduling options for the Austin Fire Department.

City Council representatives and Fire Chief Mickey Healey discussed the potential for switching the AFD from a 10/14 to a 24/48 schedule — a move Healey says will benefit the citizens of Austin and his firefighters.

AFD works on a 10/14 schedule, which means a firefighter works 10 hours each day for three days, 14 hours each night for three nights and then has three days off. The 24/48 schedule would mean each full-timer would work 24 hours and then have 48 hours off.

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“The most common and effective … schedule is a 24/48 schedule,” Healey said at the meeting. “It’s no financial burden to the city to change the schedule.”

In fact, a new schedule could potentially save the city money in overtime costs because there would no longer be a 5 p.m. shift changeover, Healey said.

First Ward council member Jeff Austin said he is not an opponent of the 24/48 schedule, but he is not a proponent for the 10/14 schedule, either. When the committee proposed recommending the issue for the full City Council to vote on, Austin said more discussion is needed before a vote takes place.

“I would have a hard time recommending the 24/48 … based on the fact we haven’t been given an idea of expectations,” he said. “I don’t feel comfortable in the reasoning.”

Healey said he wants the change because the AFD will be able to provide better service to the citizens of Austin, the 24/48 schedule is easier for his firefighters to juggle and it would also provide a healthier sleep schedule opportunity for them.

“Let me make it easier for them to be in the department,” Healey said. “Let me make … a more cohesive and efficient schedule.”

Second Ward council member Steve King expressed some sentiment on both sides of the issue, but ultimately said Healey should have the authority to make choices for his department.

“Let the people that work in the system decide,” King said. “I am a proponent of the Chief being the Chief. I don’t feel it’s my place, our place or the administration’s place.”

“We have a decent chief here who is making headway with the fellas and making headway in the community, and we’re putting our thumb on him,” King added.

The Fire Committee decided on a 2-1 vote to send the issue to a discussion with the full City Council at an upcoming work session.